When using financial information to analyze sales, most dealers are about as sophisticated as a game of checkers. A few businesses, using the same board of financial data, have advanced to chess. Now TW Perry has figured out how to play chess on several boards simultaneously.

James Kegley / www.jameskegley.com

The Gaithersburg, Md.-based dealer outscored all other Excellence Award participants with a sales scorecard that distills what normally is a bewildering array of choices into an easy-to-read, profoundly informative report that can deliver appropriate info to each level of management.

In seconds, a supervisor can assess how many dollars' worth of 30 different product categories an outside rep is selling to a particular customer or customer type. The scorecard also shows the gross margins on those products and how those margins compare with the average for that particular product line at that TW Perry branch, as well as the overall margins for that salesperson and the company-wide margin average for each product category.

Colors alert supervisors to trends. If gross margins on sales were at least two percentage points above the branch average for that category, the box showing those sales get colored in green. If the gross margin is within two points of the branch average, the box turns yellow. Margins that are at least two percentage points below the branch average get tinged in red. Gray boxes mark where the sales were too small–below $500–to merit a margin comparison. Boxes with no sales are left blank, but they still have value, because they reveal opportunities to sell new product lines to existing customers.

It's no coincidence that the color-coding is used to highlight margins rather than sales volumes. "If we are not making money–and not just sales, but critical margin dollars–we would not be able to survive, let alone thrive," TW Perry said in its entry. The six-branch, 285-employee firm posted $97 million in sales last year, 95% to pros.

Doug Kelly, TW Perry's vice president of sales and marketing, uses the numbers and colored boxes to analyze the performance of the dealer's 100 outside and counter salespeople. For instance, if a sales rep racks up green on some categories but yellow or red on others, it might signal that person is uncomfortable pitching a certain product line because he or she doesn't know enough about it.

But Kelly represents only one management level of the company that finds value from the reports. Higher-ups can compare margins with sales to determine whether they're initially pricing a product too high or too low. They can reformat the report to show sales and margin by customer type, and employ the information when writing strategic plans. Meanwhile, down at the sales reps' level, OSRs can use the scorecard to provide a quick and easy reference guide when they talk to customers over the phone or evaluate customer lists.

Rapid Response "The sales teams spend more time analyzing these reports than the management does," TW Perry's award entry noted. "These reports enable decentralized and rapid decision-making at the exact moment of critical interactions with our customers."

Excellence Awards judges agreed, noting this was a project done in-house drawing upon information that the dealer already was collecting. "It's blocking and tackling–with technology," said one. Added another: "I love it when you can take something from a piece of paper and make a decision."

Kelly and training director Mike Riegel–a former TW Perry sales rep–led the team that created the scorecard between July and October 2009. Developers pulled some of the data from their SpruceWare.NET point-of-sale (POS) system and some of it from the company's customer relationship management (CRM) system, Microsoft Dynamics CRM 3.0.

The team then used SAP's Crystal Reports to collate and display the information. It took about 80 hours of programming and Crystal report writing time, plus conversations with Spruce and Microsoft CRM officials, to complete the work.

What's next? TW Perry plans to tweak its margin measurements by incorporating data that measures the cost of doing business with each customer. That would mean adding information such as number of deliveries made, cost of deliveries, and the value of goods returned. As with its current report, TW Perry knows its POS and CRM systems already store that information. They're just hoping to put the raw data onto another level of the chessboard.